As we reflect on the first half of the 2010-2011 season, we realize there have been two groups that have been doing just about everything right: Sarasota Orchestra and the Artist Series of Sarasota.
Both groups have changed with the times without lowering or diminishing their principles. The 21st-century audience has become accustomed to both visual and vocal complements to concerts and recitals. Leonard Bernstein was one of the first in this country to turn to his audience, speak with them (and I use the word “with” rather than “to” or worse, “at”), and draw them into a more intimate atmosphere of performance. The fourth wall has crumbled and the proscenium has vanished from traditional concerts, and we are finding ourselves in the exciting position of being part of the orchestra rather than outsiders and bystanders.
Both Leif Bjaland at his orchestral concerts and the solo singers and instrumentalists at the Artist Series are inviting us to be involved in their music-making, and it’s opened a wonderful world of understanding to us that we seem to be enjoying and appreciating.
In addition, both the Sarasota Orchestra and the Artist Series are using photographs, videos and other visual aids that buttress and support our concert experiences. They don’t use these devices unless they enhance their performances. Certainly, there’s no reason to show a video to heighten our understanding of a Beethoven symphony or a Brahms piano concerto. But there’s no question that an historic video of 19th-century New York will enhance our visceral sensations while hearing a work by Dvorak that he wrote in that time and place.
These “new-fangled” concepts, combined with a raised standard of excellence, seem to be packing the houses of these groups. With a new year ahead, we may be in for even more innovation. If they keep up their track records, they may find themselves in the enviable position of having to add even more performances.